The Boston Globe article:

In the beginning...

By Molly Worthen


Image: The Prayer Foundation logo (with white Celtic cross on a green shield).  This article originally appeared in the Ideas section of The Boston Globe on Feb. 3, 2008 as an accompanying "sidebar" article to the main article: "The unexpected monks" 


Photo: of a lit candle.

Image: portion of illuminated manuscript page from "The Book of Kells."Photo: YWAM Portland prays with us in our Monastery Chapel.  (Copyright) Photo by Leah Nash (  Used by permission. S. G. Preston and his wife Linda lead a service at their home. (Leah Nash/For the Boston Globe)

In the beginning...

By Molly Worthen
February 3, 2008

THE IDEA OF a Protestant monk is not necessarily a contradiction in terms. The Anglican and Episcopal Churches have supported monastic communities since the 1840s. But to most evangelicals, the elaborate liturgy and love of history and hierarchy typical of parts of the Anglican Communion are as alien as Rome. Instead, New Monastics find inspiration in two very different strands of Catholic religious life: The ancient cloistered Celtic monks, and the wandering Franciscan friars.

New Monastics have picked up on the popular renaissance of Celtic culture underway in America for the past 20 years. Andrew Fitz-Gibbon, founder of the Lindisfarne Community, a New Monastic organization in upstate New York, is a professor at SUNY-Cortland. He is an ex-Baptist from England who became interested in Celtic spirituality through the history of his native Northumberland.

"In the States, there's an awful lot of romantic nonsense [about the Celts]," he said. "They were a ruthless, warlike, bloodthirsty people. There's a tendency to recast them as environmental feminists, and they weren't that...[but] they were less hierarchical than Rome, though still hierarchical; they were dissenters, and Americans like dissenters."

Photo: S.G. Preston and his wife, Linda; Co-founders of The Prayer Foundation and the Knights of Prayer Monastic Order.  (Copyright) Photo by Leah Nash (  Used by permission. S. G. Preston and his wife, Linda, co-founded The Prayer Foundation and the Knights of Prayer  Monastic Order in 1999.  The organization currently has over 1,800 volunteers in all 50 States of the U.S.A., and in 43 Countries worldwide.  (Photo by Leah Nash)

Vancouver, Wash.-based evangelicals S. G. Preston and his wife, Linda, were inspired to found their monastic order, the Knights of Prayer, after visits to Ireland and Assisi, St. Francis's homeland - and a passing encounter with Thomas Cahill's "How the Irish Saved Civilization" (1995) in a Newark Airport bookstore. The Celtic monks "were like Billy Graham," Preston said. "They were missionary monks - totally different from the Middle Ages kind of thing, when monks wanted to go on retreat against the world." For Protestant evangelicals with a long tradition of hostility to Rome - and whose interest in monasticism does not mean a new love for hierarchy or authority - these monks' nonconformity makes their Catholicism easier to swallow.

While the Prestons consider their monastic order a "prayer encouragement ministry," a Web-based mission that provides resources and structure for evangelical individuals interested in monastic spirituality, other New Monastics cite the more activist model of the Franciscans, who fought bitterly with Rome during the 13th century over their radical vow of poverty. "It's easier for evangelicals to connect with Franciscans because the Franciscan order is a preaching order," said Mark Van Steenwyk, founder of the New Monastic group Missio Dei in Minneapolis. "The evangelical impulse is there."

-Molly Worthen

Our comments and clarifications: _____________

To the left is the photo that  accompanied the article in the original print edition (it is not posted with the archived article on The Boston Globe website). _____________

Note: We do not consider the ancient Celtic Monks to have been a part of the Roman Catholic Church.  

This view is also held by Eastern Orthodoxy, and was held by the Roman Catholics of the time, as seen both in the writings of the Roman Catholic monk historian, The Venerable Bede, and in a Papal Bull issued by Pope Adrian IV

The Celtic Christians of Northern England did not come under the jurisdiction of Roman Catholicism until the decision of the Synod of Whitby in 664 A.D.  

Ireland did not come under the authority of Rome for an additional 500 years, until the Synod of Cashel in 1172 A.D. (a full historical explanation of these events can be found on our webpages, Favorite Monks: St. Hild (Hilda) of Whitby, and Were Celtic Monks Married?).  _____________

Photo to the left was taken for the article, but not used in the original print version. _____________

While we are indeed a "prayer encouragement ministry" of "prayer teaching & resources", we also equally stress participation by every Christian in Christ's "Great Commission" to preach the Gospel to the entire world.  

Our own Monk Bob street preaches three times daily in Portland, Oregon, and has made 43 missionary trips to Mexico to street preach in the past four years.  

Several of our Lay monks around the world are full time missionaries.  Monk Denise (in Japan) and Brother Paul (in the U.K.) immediately come to mind. _____________

Although, as the article's author has correctly  pointed out to us, our website does indeed contain much more information on the ancient Celtic Monks than on the Franciscans, this is because we are not really interested so much in the Franciscan movement as a whole, but rather mainly in St. Francis himself, and his intensely radical living of the true Christian life.

We do in fact consider the life of Francis of Assisi to be equally as inspirational to us as the lives of the ancient Celtic Monks. _____________